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I've been playing piano for more than 40 years -- started out with classical, but I've been playing in a praise band the last 10 years or so.

We recently purchased a Kurzweil PC3X keyboard for the band, and we love the flexibility it provides and the different sounds we can get.

But there is a very different style of playing on piano compared to keyboard (especially in a band) -- the piano is typically a rhythm instrument; the keyboard is often more of a "sustained note" instrument.

So -- any suggestions for how an experienced piano player can learn different techniques for playing the keyboard?

Thanks, all!

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3 Answers 3

The main factor that can affect your playing when moving from a piano to a keyboard is whether or not your keyboard has weighted key action, or is merely "touch sensitive". This, coupled with the fact that keyboards have volume controls (sometimes more than one) on not just themselves, but also on the sound system they're connected to, can make performing with dynamics tricky. On a piano, you can gauge how your dynamics are balancing with other performers, but on a keyboard this is a little more difficult because of the fact that you may not always directly hear what you play at the volume the audience or other members of your band will. Similarly, you'll find that levels might be different at different venues, so you cannot count on consistent playing to actually produce consistent results. Also be aware that different voices/instruments on the keyboards may vary greatly in how they respond to dynamics.

Something I still personally have to watch is damper pedal usage. I really don't like playing entirely without a pedal, because it makes me feel like my playing is sometimes too choppy. However, using a pedal with a keyboard, be especially aware of how it affects the various instruments/voices differently. Strings, for instance, generally don't naturally decay in volume like pianos do, and so one can wind up with a mushy mess if pedaling just like piano. However, to give a proper effect for some instruments, abrupt playing by trying to avoid the pedal may not sound right either.

Related to this, certain bass elements may get lost more easily on instruments like string or organ than on piano. Either moving down an octave with your left hand or opting for a walking or moving bass line rather than staying on repeated notes can help with this.

My main advice would be to suggest rehearsing in your performance venues when possible and recording yourself doing a few different things from a distance while rehearsing with your group so you can gauge how you're sounding as part of the ensemble to the audience. Monitors and headphones don't always give the most accurate impression.

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Are you playing "synthesizer" or "keyboard"? The two are often different.

In many praise songs, especially singer/songwriter style, the piano player does what's called "padding" - basically providing rhythmic and chordal texture for the ensemble. Assuming that you have knowledge of music theory, this is really not too hard to learn. Typically the piano player will read chords off a lead sheet in this instance.

For practice, look up lead sheets to praise and worship songs on the internet, and play and sing along (even if you can't sing - in my case)

If you're playing synthesizer (i.e. strings or synth sounds), things are a bit different. Sometimes there may be written parts, or you may still be expected to improvise. In this case, its better to provide more chordal and less rhythmic background, often to the tastes of the director.

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Sorry, I think I may not have been clear. This is not a question about playing from lead sheets vs written music, I'm wondering if there are differences in keying techniques for piano vs keyboard. For example, as you point out, the piano often provides both rhythmic and chordal texture. This works well because of the piano's strong attack and weak sustain. A keyboard (at least string sounds, etc) provides a more continuous sound -- so are there different techniques for playing or for choosing which inversions to use for the chords? (I hope I'm explaining myself better...) –  ScottSM Jun 7 '11 at 5:01
Well I don't ever play strings on keyboard a whole lot, but: There's not a whole lot of difference in actual keying technique, but as far as chord voicings, I would usually play octaves, fifths, or other sonorous intervals in the bass, so you can get that nice fat bass string sound. Then usually do block chords or whatnot with the right hand staying relatively close to middle C. Some dissonant intervals that might sound good improvising on piano may not sound good with string sounds. I'm afraid I can't offer much more than that. Maybe discuss the sound that the ensemble members want? –  Chase Meadors Jun 7 '11 at 5:57

Try out a bunch first. In my opinion, the feeling of the keyboard is much different and less desirable than that of the natural feeling of a piano. I'm not saying this will be the case for you, but before you invest definitely go to your local music store and take a few keyboards for a few runs.

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